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Jharkhand's new tryst
September 26, 2006
Just before results began coming in for the six assembly elections in 2005, the Prime Minister's Office voiced an interesting thought. It was suggested that while the prime minister was concerned about the outcome of the Bihar, Haryana and other elections, his primary worry was over a state that seemed least important at the time. Officials confided it was Jharkhand where the result of the assembly election was most crucial -- a state sitting on a volcano of left wing extremism, pluralistic politics and enormous riches on account of natural resources.
Manmohan Singh was prescient in his worries. There is no other state in India that can come closer to Alice in Wonderland than Jharkhand. The Shibu Soren-Arjun Munda merry-go-round is over and having tried the best, now Jharkhand is about to try the rest.
An independent -- an individual and not a party -- forms a government that all "secular" parties agree to support to keep out the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Arjun Munda government.
And how independent is the independent ? Well, he started out as an RSS sympathiser (shakhas, training, the whole shebang) in the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, fought the assembly election in 1995 and 2000 on a BJP ticket, and was persuaded to be part of the team supporting Arjun Munda till a few months ago. So how does this define a secular figure -- that he may have begun as a communal person but if he quits the BJP he becomes secular?
Okay, Jharkhand is a frontline state so the Congress had its governance compulsions. Ideology was not as important as political stability. But what about the BJP and its ideological fuzziness? When it was clear that the Munda government was going to fall, it tried to do a deal with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha virtually agreeing to make Shibu Soren's son deputy chief minister (forgetting all the slogans they chanted about Soren's alleged corruption). Nor did it matter significantly that the JMM was part of the UPA.
But this is just part of the ongoing saga of ironies that passes for politics in Jharkhand. The BJP made only token efforts to save the Jharkhand government from falling, so angry were they with the performance of Arjun Munda -- who joined the BJP only in 2000 and retains many of the traits he learnt in the JMM where he got his political tutelage.
What is not generally known is that a few months ago, some leaders in the BJP 'arranged' for five members of the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal to cross the floor and come to Munda's aid. As the RJD has seven MLAs in the current assembly, the anti-defection law would not have worked. The five would have provided weight and ballast to the Munda government. But Munda never met them and negotiations, which ultimately broke down on the issue of their merger (the BJP wanted them to merge, they didn't) included ministries, posts and other incentives. If that had happened, Munda might not have lost his government.
The Congress didn't want the present government and did its best to persuade other allies to impose President's Rule. It was Lalu Prasad who took the initiative. Even now, the Congress is quite happy to let the government fall and insiders predict it won't complete a year in office.
And what of the chief minister? From all accounts, he is eminently forgettable. Right now, efforts are on to rig up an architecture that will restrain him from further damaging Jharkhand's institutional structure. Koda was associated with the movement for statehood and lost in 1995 but won in the 2000 assembly election, following Bihar's bifurcation, and rising to become a minister of state in the Babulal Marandi government. His performance, colleagues say, was chequered, which is why the BJP denied him a ticket in the 2005 election. He contested as an independent and won. Then, as an independent, he happened to be in the right time at the right place.
For reasons best known to him, Munda, though conscious that he was presiding over a shaky empire, did nothing to keep the independents happy. One independent, Kamlesh Singh, said he was humiliated by the state police, allegedly on the orders of the CM. Koda was part of this group. Now, as single-member party, Koda's authority in the government will be nil. Other people will be running the government for him.
Understandably those who have invested in Jharkhand are on the edge. Will they incur another round of rentier costs? Everything points to precisely this. It took Munda a year to get his cabinet to clear the rehabilitation policy for those who lost their land as a result of rapid industrialisation of Jharkhand. Munda put the draft policy before all possible interest groups for their views and the cabinet passed it three days before his government fell. But in his first round of interviews, Koda suggests that not only will he review cabinet decisions but also all MoUs signed between the government and the private sector. This is enough to scare entrepreneurs.
The Koderma by-poll will be the UPA's first major challenge after Madhu Koda sets up shop. It will also test the Congress, and the policy it adopts towards the Babulal Marandi group. Marandi was in the BJP but walked out from the party. He wants to contest the by-election. The question is whether the Congress will set up a candidate against him or not. This decision could set off another string of political equations.
Under Koda, Jharkhand might see stormy weather. Hopefully the spell won't last long.